City of Otsego: Four charter amendments on ballot

By: 
Daniel Pepper, Staff Writer

Otsego city voters will have four amendments to the city charter to decide on their November general election ballots.

The first charter amendment, if approved, would allow relatives to be eligible for appointment to city boards or to work for the city.

City manager Thad Beard said the current language was too vague to practically follow.

“It’s so vague, it’s hard to think we’re legal in a small community because a lot of people are distantly related,” Beard said. “It doesn’t say how close a relation it needs to be.”

The charter now says no relatives at all are allowed, language Mayor Tom Gilmer said previously was being violated when his wife served on the library board.
Beard said the city’s personnel policy addresses nepotism in hiring.  

The second charter amendment would increase the maximum millage rate the city can levy on property from 12.5 mills to 14 mills. The city currently assesses 12.0854 mills because of the Headlee Amendment’s rollback requirement.

“It’s being requested simply because we can’t continue to provide the essential services at the current rate,” Beard said.

He gave several examples, including that the city hasn’t bought a new police car in four years, the phone system at the fire department failing and in-car video cameras for police.

“There’s a laundry list of things that aren’t being taken care of,” Beard said. “So far, we’ve been able to keep it from affecting the public, but sooner or later we’re going to have to cut things they will see.  

Beard said the city had studied the millage rate it charged, compared to other comparable towns in west Michigan and found Otsego was lower than most.

“We’re trying to generate enough revenue to provide the services our citizens require and the lion’s share of those are police and fire,” Beard said.

The third amendment would change the requirements for the city to issue bonds from a vote of 60 percent of the public to a simple majority vote.

The issue arose in 2012 when the city sought a millage to pay for a bond purchase to fund its half of a new fire truck and it was passed by a majority of voters, but didn’t reach 60 percent. The city held a second election and that time voters reached the 60-percent margin.

The fourth amendment would allow the city to use a bank located outside the city as its depository. There currently is only one bank with a branch inside city limits, so city leaders wish to have the ability to seek bids from multiple banks.

“We’d want to keep it local, because we’d need to bank with them on a daily basis, but we’d like to eliminate those geographical boundaries,” Beard said.

Earlier in the year, city commissioners said they decided to put these amendments on the ballot at the November general election because they deemed them the most substantive of the changes they wanted to put to voters for approval and wanted those before the greatest possible number of voters.

The city charter hasn’t been updated since 1955, city officials said.

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